I cheated. Last Spring (2023), I taught through Hebrews 10:19-39 in Cape Town. It was March, so I had only been studying this letter seriously for about a month and a half. So, as we’ve been getting closer and closer to this passage, I’ve wondered if my thoughts would change since last March. The verdict? A little. Would I change anything I taught in Cape Town? Probably, but nothing substantial. As I reviewed my notes from that teaching, I noticed how a few of my conclusions didn’t have all the pieces in place.
This passage represents an enormous shift. It’s a hinge of sorts. It begins with the most loaded, therefore, in the entire letter. Why? Built into that single, therefore, is the contents of everything that came prior. Within that therefore we find:
- Jesus is greater than the angels (chapters 1-2).
- Jesus is greater than Moses (chapter 3).
- Jesus is our Great High Priest (chapters 4-8).
- Jesus is greater than the Temple (chapter 9).
- Jesus is the greatest and final sacrifice (chapter 10:1-18).
It’s very much like the therefore in Romans 12:1. In light of everything that we’ve said before, this is how we respond. So, as we move ahead, we’re moving into the response portion of the author’s sermon/letter. Because of all of that, this is how we should respond.
Therefore, faith. The author’s content has three parts:
- Let us (vv 19-25)
- A Warning (vv 26-31)
- How to (vv 32-39)
As much as I’d like to get it done in one article, I’m afraid this is part one of at least two.
19 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Have you ever needed to fix a kitchen appliance but didn’t know how to do it? Back in the ’90s and even the ’00s, if you couldn’t find anyone knowledgeable, you had to pay someone to do the job. Now, we can go to the trusty YouTube and find tutorials and how-to videos on virtually any appliance repair job you might encounter.
I remember the first time I did this. I started with a broken appliance and no knowledge and no confidence. After a few YouTube videos, I was confident with a capital C that I could fix it. And I did! Have you done that? Do you remember that feeling of confidence? It felt good, right? That’s the confidence the author is talking about. Now that we know what we know, we have CONFIDENCE to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus. You don’t have to be afraid. You don’t have to be unsure. We enter with the confidence that Christ’s blood doesn’t just make us right but grants us the right to enter God’s holy presence. (If “grants us the right” makes you uncomfortable, it comes from John 1:12.)
Because we have this confidence, the author gave us three Let us statements.
Let Us #1
22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.
There are a few things to break down in this verse. First, let’s look at a true heart. The author is referring to a heart characterized by sincerity and truth. It echoes back to Christ’s conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well of Jacob in John 4. He told her that the Father sought those who worship in spirit and truth (John 4:23). It contrasts what the author had been trying to correct. The ones who “fall away” are those whose hearts are wicked and unbelieving. Wicked and unbelieving hearts don’t possess the confidence the author highlighted in this passage. It’s why they rejected the Gospel and sought to return to the system that Christ made obsolete.
Second, let’s talk about the full assurance of faith, and let me telegraph an English problem that’s coming. The word assurance is used here and in Hebrews 11:1. I’m bringing this up now because I’m about to say something that may have an apparent contradiction when we arrive in the next chapter. Let’s break this down now so we don’t have to repeat it when we arrive at 11:1.
In the ESV, both 10:22 and 11:1 use the same English word, assurance, but in Greek, it’s two different words: plerophoria (10:22) and hypostasis (11:1). Plerophoria means certainty or most certain confidence, and is used four times in the New Testament: Colossians 2:2, 1 Thessalonians 1:5, Hebrews 6:11, and here in Hebrews 10:22.
Hypostasis has a more complicated definition. It appears five times: 2 Corinthians 9:4, 11:17, Hebrews 1:3, 3:14, 11:1. Here’s a copied and pasted definition from Strongs. I consulted a few other lexicons (including BDAG), and all are in broad agreement.
- g5287. ὑπόστασις hypostasis; from a compound of 5259 and 2476; a setting under (support), i.e. (figuratively) concretely, essence, or abstractly, assurance (objectively or subjectively): — confidence, confident, person, substance.
- AV (5) – confidence 2, confident 1, person 1, substance 1;
- a setting or placing under, thing put under, substructure, foundation
that which has foundation, is firm
- that which has actual existence; a substance, real being
- the substantial quality, nature, of a person or thing
- the steadfastness of mind, firmness, courage, resolution
- confidence, firm trust, assurance
- a setting or placing under, thing put under, substructure, foundation
- AV (5) – confidence 2, confident 1, person 1, substance 1;
When Paul used hypostasis in 2 Corinthians, it seems he leaned more into the confidence side of this definition. The author of Hebrews isn’t that consistent. In Hebrews 1:3, it is translated as nature. In Hebrews 3:14, confidence. And in Hebrews 11:1, assurance. Each of those is from the ESV. If you look in the Lexham English Bible (LEB) in the same order, you get essence, commitment, and realization.
Here’s my contention. I think the ESV’s assurance in 10:22 shouldn’t be interpreted the same as 11:1. Why? Here in 10:22, the author referred to what faith produces in us: the assurance – plerophoria – OF faith, the certain confidence that faith provides. In 11:1, the author (according to the ESV) said faith IS assurance – hypostasis. I lean more toward the LEB’s translation of 11:1, which reads:
Now faith is the realization of what is hoped for, the proof of things not seen.
– Hebrews 11:1 (LEB)
Now that the brief Greek lesson is complete let’s move on. Our faith produces the blessed assurance that we sing about. Please note that assurance and faith are not the same. Faith produces assurance. Why is that distinction important? There’s a brand of faith that gets a lot of airtime in evangelical circles based on a subjective feeling of being saved. To put it the way that it was put to me growing up, you just know that you know that you’re saved. The author demolishes that definition in the next chapter.
But here, we’re talking about something that genuine faith produces: full assurance. And it is in that full assurance that we draw near. How is that assurance produced? Everything that is packed into the therefore we referenced at the start. Knowing all that, our faith produces a full assurance that we can draw near. It’s closely connected to Peter’s statement:
3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence,
– 2 Peter 1:3
How do we avail ourselves of the divine power the LORD granted us? Through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence. The full assurance of faith grows from our depth of knowledge of Jesus.
Then, we draw near with hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and with bodies washed with pure water. The sprinkling is a tie to the priestly duties of the old covenant, which the author has covered extensively. They sprinkled the altar with the blood of a sacrifice that could not perfect our conscience (Hebrews 9:9), but Christ sprinkles our hearts with His blood, effectively cleansing the conscience.
Washing with pure water isn’t as straightforward. In Cape Town, I taught that this links with baptism. I haven’t rejected that, but my understanding has expanded a bit since then. It could also link well with Christ’s teaching in John 7:38.
38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, “Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”
– John 7:38 (ESV)
I suppose I could go either way. Neither interpretation breaks the passage.
Let Us #2
23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.
We don’t say hold fast anymore. It’s almost always one of two things whenever I read or hear that phrase. I’m either reading my Bible, or I’m watching Master and Commander. It’s just not part of our vernacular anymore. To hold fast is to firmly grasp, to not waver, to be immovable. This is precisely what some of these Hebrew believers weren’t doing. They were falling back. Why? We’ve touched on this here and there, but the author never spells out precisely why these believers were wavering. It might’ve been social and family pressure. Becoming a Christian would have put them at odds with their unbelieving families and friends. It might’ve been cultural. Christianity began with a distinctly Jewish flavor, but that distinctiveness faded as more Gentiles came to faith. But regardless of the reason, the author called them back to faithfulness.
Hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering. Why?
It’s because the LORD is faithful. He is faithful even when we are faithless (2 Timothy 2:13). This touches upon the core motivator of our faith. Our motivation is not a fear of loss, so we work hard to please Him. Our motivation is the grace of God that He loves us, even when we aren’t loveable. The Christian life lived out of a sense of dutiful obedience, or fearful obedience, not only misses the point but might’ve missed salvation altogether. When Paul wrote to the Galatians, he was correcting a similar problem: returning to the law of Moses. He was much sharper and to the point than the author of Hebrews.
1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?
– Galatians 3:1-6 (ESV)
Maybe Paul was sharper because his letter was shorter. I don’t know. If Hebrews was a sermon, perhaps the sharp tone was softened by having more time to explain. Who knows? Regardless of tone, Paul and the author are saying the same thing. Hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering because he who promised is faithful. He’s faithful when you’re on the mountaintop and when you’re in the valley. He’s faithful when you nail it and when you get nailed. The Father knew exactly what He was getting when He adopted you as His son. He also knows precisely what you will become. Should you want to obey Him? Absolutely. But that obedience doesn’t come from fear of loss. You’re going to receive the inheritance that He’s promised. Instead, our obedience flows from a heart filled with gratitude and love for the One who saved us.
But catch this. We hold fast together! This is a LET US statement. Holding fast all alone isn’t really holding fast. If the command is let us hold fast, it’s implied that you don’t do it in isolation from the larger faith community. Every believer is to hold fast along with other believers who are holding fast. Are there situations in the world where community is challenging because of oppression? Of course. But even under oppression, believers find each other and form a community. I have more to say about this, so let’s move into the third Let Us.
Let Us #3
24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
– Hebrews 10:24-25 (ESV)
Our third and final Let Us is about coming together. Let me finish my thoughts from the previous paragraph. I find it ironic and troubling when I hear of believers who place a low value on gathering when there are believers in oppressed countries who risk their lives to gather with other believers. What is wrong with us? I’ve heard it all.
- The church hurt me.
- The church is full of hypocrites.
- The church is too worldly.
- The church is… blah, blah, blah.
I can only imagine the utter disbelief that an Iranian or Chinese believer would have when they hear our excuses. It’s a sign of our spoiled, privileged, western disposition that we need the church to be so attuned to our personal expectations. But, instead of giving full voice to my inner cynic, I want to be fair to these broad objections. Let’s deal with them.
The Church Hurt Me. I want to distinguish between sexual abuse (which sadly happens) and run-of-the-mill hurts and disappointments. If someone in your church has sexually abused you, your hurt is understandable. You are not in mind here. I’m aiming at lesser offenses.
There is a saying: there’s no hurt like church hurt. I understand the sentiment behind that. You were hurt by people in the one place where it shouldn’t have happened. The church should be a place for healing, not getting hurt. I agree. But there’s one big problem with holding up this lofty standard. God’s Word anticipates that people will be hurt in local churches. If God’s Word anticipates this and makes provisions for how we should handle our differences, who are we to expect any local church to have it all together at all times? Who are we to expect any believer to always be on point with loving their neighbor as they love themselves when God Himself expects that we won’t? If the LORD of Hosts anticipates our failure, is gracious toward us, and makes provision for us, we should do as He does. We should anticipate hurt. We should expect the failure of others to love us rightly. And we should be gracious and make provision for them, just as God does for us.
Am I saying we should sweep things under the rug? No. But neither am I saying that we are to nitpick one another into begrudged submission. If love indeed covers a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8), then our patience with each other should be long-suffering and enduring. Jesus makes no provision for someone sinned against to only sit in the corner and lick their wounds. Jesus also makes no provision for someone to steamroll others, justifying their actions with cherry-picked Scriptures. Both have a responsibility to reconcile.
To the steamroller, Jesus says,
23 So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
– Matthew 5:23-24 (ESV)
To the steamrolled, Jesus says,
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.
– Matthew 18:15 (ESV)
No one is exempt from reconciliation. Church hurt often happens because one or both parties fail even to try. However, it is never a justifiable reason to stop gathering. You’ll never stand before the LORD with adequate justification for failing to gather.
The church is full of hypocrites. This is perhaps the most common objection, but it’s based on a faulty understanding of hypocrisy. What is a hypocrite? The faulty understanding is that hypocrites don’t practice what they preach. Well, by that definition, everyone is a hypocrite. No one perfectly practices what they preach. People can’t even live up to the standards they hold for themselves, much less the standards of God’s Word. That’s not being a hypocrite. That’s being human. In Matthew 23, when Jesus calls the Pharisees hypocrites, he has a more nuanced definition in mind. The Pharisees were indeed not practicing what they preached, but what made them hypocrites was they acted as if they did. That’s what a hypocrite is: an actor. You’re pretending to be something you’re not.
The accusation of hypocrisy in the church is itself hypocritical. You’re pretending to have moral high ground where you can accuse people who are 1) just like you, imperfect and in process, 2) actually walking in obedience to gather when you aren’t, and 3) have chosen to love people in their supposed hypocrisy, while you hold up a kind of contractual, conditional love that only loves when your standards are met.
Who’s the real hypocrite here? You’re demanding a standard from others that you cannot achieve. Repent, crucify the cynic, gather, and find healing in Christ within the community of faith.
The church is too worldly. This is a special kind of objection that only comes from professing believers. This objection has some merit. It’s not hard to find churches where their gatherings feel more like a concert with a motivational speaker. The mega-church has done harm in this area. Now, I’m not personally against mega-churches. Not all mega-churches have this worldly vibe, but many do. Also, worldliness isn’t limited to mega-churches. Smaller local churches are guilty as well. And it’s not always because of praise bands and colored lights. Sometimes, worldliness creeps in through the compromise of doctrine. Churches that sing orthodox hymns but deny that homosexuality is sinful are just as worldly as mega-churches that embrace good doctrine but have big bands, light shows, and motivational pep-talks.
However, the question here is whether the worldly nature of some churches give believers a license to refrain from gathering. The answer is a resounding no. The answer is always to find like-minded believers and gather with them for worship regularly. I understand that some are disenfranchised because they think the whole institution is broken from top to bottom, so they have a problem with all churches simply based on form and function. Some claim that the institution, since Constantine, has been infiltrated with Babylonian practice. I’m not here to affirm or deny those accusations. I’m only here to point you to Scripture, which commands us to assemble often for gathered worship.
Find a way to get over the objections of worldliness and gather with other believers. We don’t gather for the sake of an institution. We gather for Jesus and for each other. For Him because He’s our Savior, and He loves us. For each other because we need the fellowship of other believers to become fully formed followers of Jesus.
The Church is… Look, we could fill in the blank all day, but the words in these verses still bring us back to a decision to walk in obedience by gathering or disobedience in isolation. You can’t accomplish any Let Us commands outside of the church fellowship. You can’t stir anyone up to love and good works, nor encourage anyone, if you aren’t gathering with the body of Christ. So, let’s wrap up part one with this.
These Let Us commands imply that we regularly gather for worship and fellowship. If that’s the case, let us stop pretending that we can have thriving spiritual lives apart from gathered worship with the local church. Let us cease with self-excusing justifications for not assembling. And let us do these things together as the LORD intends for us. Growing together is how He makes us more like Jesus. Look at all that Christ has accomplished! In light of all of that, let us gather with grateful hearts and encourage one another as we see His return drawing near.
Part two is coming quickly on the heels of this one, so stay tuned.